I’ve had my Baked Potato over the summer now: time to update my first impressions and get you a real review!
Who Is It For?
The Firewire web site is a little cagey about the intended audience, and they have videos of Gabriel Medina on a Baked Potato. The smallest adult size you can get, though, is the 5’1″ which has a volume of 29.3l. That’s a tad large for an advanced surfer and indicates the board is mostly targeted at an at most intermediate audience.
Since it’s such a short board, it’s really not well-suited for beginners, either. While the small size compensates (to an extent) for flaws in the stance, overall the board is too unstable in the width axis (forward backward) to appeal to a beginner. In essence, it is so short that you might find yourself pearling or stalling more often than you’d have to.
Since I am getting into intermediate territory (or am already there, depending on who’s counting), I thought the Baked Potato was an almost optimal choice. The one problem it has, though, is the price tag: it retails (summer 2013) for $649/$699 (RapidFire/TimberTek), and there are virtually no discounts.
If you want the marketing speak from the FireWire site, please go there. This is an assessment of a not-even-close-to-thinking-about-going-pro kook-ish dude.
The BP looks very odd. It is short and wide and really fat. It really looks like someone took a regular shortboard and compressed it along its length axis, making it fatter in the process of making it shorter.
The basic idea is that you want the same volume (which gives you float, and hence gets you into waves) and width (which gives you sideways stability), but you want to lose the length (which is a hindrance in smaller waves). As a result, you get a board that is fun to ride in small waves, but has the stability you need for…
Right, we don’t really know what the stability is for. Except that you need that stability when you demo the board. You have a limited amount of time, you want to check out a bunch of boards, and the BP is the perfect board to demo. You wouldn’t demo on a day with really good waves, so having a demo board that is easily switched to and performs well in small waves is a good idea. So you have it: The BP is designed to demo well, because that’s how a lot of people make their board buying decisions.
There are some design decision, though, that are entirely brilliant and make the BP a lot of fun to ride. The FireWire people, for one, used the added thickness very smartly. The rails, for instance, are thinner than the board overall. From the side to the central decking, the board slopes upwards. It looks a little awkward, since you don’t have a flat deck to work with, but in practice you won’t use the sides of the deck, anyways. The thinner rails, on the other hand, give you much better performance in turns and rail transitions.
On the other hand, the rocker (the curve of the board) is different on top and bottom. The deck is almost flat, while the bottom (apparently, that’s the technical term) has a pronounced curve. That makes it much easier to stand, while gaining all the advantages of a pronounced rocker.
In essence, the design philosophy of the BP is to use the overall characteristics of the shape to separate the deck from performance in water. It’s as if the board had a dual nature: make it easy to stand and catch waves, but also allow a riding experience like on a regular shortboard.
What Waves Does It Like?
As mentioned above, the design philosophy indicates this is a small-wave board. I’d say it performs best below 4 feet. Its secret is its huge volume (for the size) that allows you to catch waves other shortboarders can’t dream of riding. I’ve often been in water with faceless waves that nobody else wanted, only to ride them to shore.
On larger waves, the BP’s advantages don’t particularly shine. It becomes a slowish board, then, with a middling performance. I’d much rather have a zippier board, then, but that’s a given.
The BP performs really well on a variety of breaks. I have used it most at San Diego’s beach breaks, where it catches the fast waves well and is an easy ride. It does very well on reef breaks, too, where it can utilize its short length and strong rocker to hurry along waves not quite steep enough for the remainder of the crowd. Point breaks are a given.
The BP doesn’t do well at all in crossed up surf or chunky waves. I don’t know if it’s the low weight, the roundness of it, or something else, but it has a hard time keeping momentum going when the incline changes. It underperforms in backwashed surf, as well, where it behaves confused and tends to stall.
How Does It Feel?
I decided to go without traction pad for the first time, so it took me a while to get used to the overall riding. But now that I have, the BP is my favorite board, overall. Just as the demo promised, it’s really easy to catch waves with it, even marginal waves that nobody else likes.
At the same time, the board is really stable once moving, and popping up onto even trickier waves a breeze. It catches speed easily on small waves and is really easy to maneuver – a combination of the rail design and the fins, set close to the rail.
The (short) length, as mentioned, is very forgiving of problems with the stance, so that you’ll be able to ride pretty much any wave you get into. Rail transitions are zippy and accurate, and bottom turns at (relatively) high speed are incredible fun.
Other Than Riding
Paddling the BP has the usual problems of short boards: it’s easier to get on the wrong spot. I tend to place myself slightly more forward than I would on my longer boards, and use my knees to create pressure to push the tail down. The responsiveness to forward-backward motion that makes this board so flexible when catching waves makes it a smidge less friendly when a wave hits you and you shift on your board.
Duck diving the BP is easy and unproblematic (although I’ll generally admit I find all boards easy to duck dive, as long as they are below 7′). The width makes it a little harder to push down, so I have taken to pushing one side a little before the other, given the dive a slightly asymmetric tint.
What the BP really shines at, though, has absolutely nothing to do with surfing. It’s a really great conversation starter. Whenever I am standing anywhere, there will be people coming over to look at the Tater Tot (as I affectionately call it), and they’ll compliment it. “It’s a really cool board,” is what I get to hear the most. Granted, all the attention has been coming from guys, so if that’s not the attention you are craving, maybe it’s best to look at something else.
RapidFire or TimberTek?
The BP comes in two “flavors” of decking material: the bamboo decking called RapidFire, and the wood wrapping called TimberTek. Both are epoxy, with the usual advantages and disadvantages.
I went with the TimberTek, based on marketing chatter. The material had just come out and promised to be more durable and easier to patch. Turns out if this is more durable, then the RapidFires must break at the first hint of a breeze. I’ve never had a board that dings so easily. Sometimes I will have a perfectly chill session with nary a bump in the water, and when I get home there is a ding on the rail.
On the other hand, the dings are easily fixed, and the wood doesn’t crack in long lines like other epoxy boards do. A ding typically stays localized, which makes repairs much quicker and safer. I have never seen a spiderweb fracture on this board, which is a really good sign.
Futures or FCS?
That question is of course independent of the board, but at least the BP offers both. I ended up choosing the Futures fins, because I have broken enough FCS fins to know that the dual plug into the board is a real problem. The fins break relatively easily, and they are relatively hard to get out.
Futures, with a single and much longer plug, don’t break off as easily, but are currently a lot more expensive. Downward pressure on prices of FCS fins comes from cheap imports (a full tri set can be found for under $20 on Amazon). I guess that’s a matter of time, and eventually Futures fins will become more common and the prices of fins will go down. For now, though, to the $700 of the board I had to add another $150 of a 5-fin setup. Not happy about that.
Is It Worth It?
As I mentioned above, board + fins + tax ended up costing me well over $900. I was disappointed with the resilience of TimberTek and would probably choose RapidFire if I wanted to buy another FireWire board. But make no mistake, the BP is an amazing board if you want to conquer all the summer waves you can get.
The Tater Tot (no, you may not call your board that) is now my default board. Unless I have good reason to choose something else, I’ll always take it with me. It has an outstanding combination of manoeuvrability, stability, and ease of use. I particularly like the fact it catches waves that are uncatchable to others, because these stupid San Diego breaks are always crowded. Even when Scripps or PB are crawling with wetsuits, I’ll always find something to ride.
The price is a concern. After all, this is a hunk of foam with a thin layer of wood and epoxy on top. It shouldn’t cost $700, not even half as much.
But until someone jumps on board with a similar design, the BP is a stand-out board within a niche in which it has virtually no competition.
So, the short answer: I would definitely buy it again.